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R. Michael (Michael) Roberts, PhD

Curator's Professor of Animal Science, Professor of Biochemistry, Adjunct Professor of Veterinary Pathobiology


240b Life Sciences Center
Columbia, MO 65211


Research in the Roberts laboratory is in several areas, mainly relating to trophoblast (placental) function and differentiation. A primary focus is on the interferon-tau, a family of gene products that were first cloned and identified in this laboratory as products of trophectoderm or pecoran ruminants, such as cattle and sheep, prior to attachment of the trophoblast the uterine wall. The role of the interferon-tau is in maternal recognition of pregnancy and particularly in preventing the regression of the corpus luteum and loss of progesterone support of early pregnancy. Present interests center around the transcriptional control of the several interferon-tau genes, the signaling function of the interferon receptor in the endometrium and the downstream genes that are regulated by IFN-t in the maternal uterus. The potential use of pharmacologically administered IFN-t in improving pregnancy success in cattle is also being studied.


A second project is on the role of transcription factors that are required for specification of the cell lineage that leads to the formation of trophoblast and that also seem to be necessary to drive the expression of the signature genes characteristic of trophoblast. Among the candidates being studied are Ets2, Dlx3, and Cdx2. The latter is particularly intriguing because it appears to be involved in pre-patterning of mouse embryonic development as early as the mature oocyte. Consequently, expression of the Cdx2 gene can be used to identify which cells of the cleavage stage embryo are destined to form trophoblast.


A third interest is in the control of differentiation of human embryonic stem cells. The laboratory is particularly interested in the manner whereby differentiation of human ES cells can be largely eliminated by maintaining the cells under hypoxic conditions, even though growth of the cells is not compromised by low oxygen. This discovery allows investigators to grow these cell lines without the concern that they are undergoing spontaneous differentiation. It will also allow the phenotype of the undifferentiated ES cell to be defined.


A fourth interest is on how maternal diet can influence the sex of her offspring. Using a mouse model, the Roberts' laboratory has shown that diets high in fat tend to skew the sex ratio of pups towards males, whereas a low fat diet favors female pups. This bias is unrelated to the weight of the mothers. Present research is focused on the mechanisms involved in causing sex ratio skewing.


More information on Dr. Roberts and his lab can be found here.

Research Areas of Interest

Cell biology
Cellular signaling
Developmental biology
Generation of transgenic animals
Hormone action
Immunocytochemistry EM/LM
In situ hybridization
In vitro transcription
Molecular biology
Molecular genetics
Protein biology
Protein phosphorylation
Protein sequencing
Pulsed field electrophoresis
Receptor biology
Reproductive biology
Women's health